Citizenship Confusion: Why I Criticize the Church

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

Criticism is always hard to take. And criticism of your community, by those within your community, can be even harder to take. It’s much easier to receive rebuke from those who belong to the Other Side because you can always write it off as a difference in “worldview.” At times in my column (but not all the time), I have sought to lovingly admonish my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I’m afraid that some of my admonitions have not been received or communicated well. Some would even question whether we should be criticizing other believers’ ministries at all.

My Hit List?

Over the last year in my column, I have exhorted, admonished, criticized, warned against, or condemned the following organizations and people, many of whom are Christian:

This list makes it seem like I’m really a self-loathing Christian, or one of those vocal Christians who tries to win over unbelievers by tearing down the Church—currently, a very popular form of evangelism among young adult Christians (although they would probably scorn the term “evangelism”). Their evangel goes something like this:

“Let’s talk about all the ways the Church is horrible and Christians are stupid bigots. I’m a different kind of Christian, and I think those YEC Christians are the worst. So, you should be a Christian too!”

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I fall into that style of evangelism sometimes too. Other times, I’m not willing to be critical enough about Christian culture.

It’s very hard not to be a Cheerleader for everything evangelicals do or a Parasite that grows by feeding off of mocking other evangelicals. After all, those do tend to be the two dominate styles of public discourse in our culture: militant and unyielding support, or militant and uncharitable critique.

This is precisely the kind of binary response I have tried to correct in this column, perhaps ineffectively. Although it might not be pleasant, we have a great responsibility to exhort and admonish each other. In fact, I believe that our responsibility to sharpen and admonish each other is much greater than our responsibility to condemn the world.

Why Criticize?

Because we have been received the Gospel and are Christ’s Body, we ought to hold each other to a higher standard than we hold for unbelievers. We see this idea repeatedly in Scripture.

In 1 Peter 4:17, we are warned that judgement must begin with the house of God. Shouldn’t we then admonish each other in anticipation of such judgement?

In Luke 6:42, Christ calls us to remove the plank from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brothers’. In a like way, shouldn’t we remove the planks, whether they be “planks” of sin or wisdom, from the eyes of our community so that we can better witness to God’s love?

Paul has this concern about our witness in mind when he warns us in Romans 2:21-24 that the name of God is blasphemed among unbelievers because of the hypocrisy of Christians. And what’s Paul’s solution? Teachers should teach themselves. And I would add that so too should the Church teach itself so that the world has no cause to blaspheme God.

Confused Citizenships

The concern of this column has been to address the ways in which we succeed or fail in living in light of the Kingdom of Heaven. And so a common theme has been identifying ways in which we have adopted practices and beliefs that are not fitting with our calling.

My columns have tended towards two major criticisms: 1. the use of uncharitable language and 2. the uncritical acceptance and perpetuation of falsehoods by conservative, evangelical Christians–my community.

The Internet, which has become for many of us the primary location of public discourse, lends itself to both of these errors. Anonymity and short attention spans encourage short, biting exchanges over nuanced dialogue. And the deluge of data (your twitter or news feed, for example) makes us disinclined to check facts, and so more susceptible to Confirmation Bias.

To make matters worse, the public and indiscriminate nature of most social networks has made it easier for people to influence friends and family. Which means that it is no small error when Christians spread falsehood or use uncharitable language online. It has real ramifications on what other Christians think and do and how unbelievers perceive us and the Faith. And it has been out of a concern over these effects that my columns often come, perhaps a bit overzealously.

The Good News

What is exciting is that Christians have such freedom to critique each other in love because our justification does not come through our works or the purity of the Church. Christ’s finished work on the Cross means that we have the grace to be wrong and to change without fear of condemnation. And we have the freedom to admonish brothers and sisters without judging their ultimate worth or salvation. We can admonish and be admonished because we are already forgiven through Christ’s blood.

In light of this grace, I will admit that at times I have focused too intently at the flaws in the Church or one side of the political spectrum. And it is my intention to offer more positive examples of believers who are faithful to their heavenly citizenship and more balance to my criticisms. However, my passion and concern will always be for the edification of the communities that I most identify with: conservative, evangelical, reformed, republican, homeschoolers [who raise goats, preferably]; so, please bear with me as I continue to be sharpened and corrected in my attempts to sharpen and correct those that I love.

 

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • Geoffrey R.

    Alan,

    This is a post I have been hoping you would write. As a friend of yours, I know very well that you are not a natively critical individual and that when you do critique positions, it is primarily in the service of edification. However, since the nature of your column tends toward critical posts, I could see how some might get the impression of you that you sepnd your time nitpicking other Christians. So I am glad that you have written this post to clarify your perspective. I am often in the same boat as you: I am frustrated with aspects of Evangelical culture because it is my own, and because I want us as Evangelicals to represent ourselves and our faith well to a world inclined to think hostilely about us. I hope, with this post in mind, other conservatives will read your column in the future with the understanding that you want what we all should want–to look more Christlike in our engagement with each other and with those who differ from us–and that any criticism is meant for the purposes of building up the church.

    Geoffrey

  • http://goodokbad.com/ Seth T. Hahne

    As an artist, critic, and former blogger too-deeply-devoted to the wrong kind of criticism, I have never found this column to be promoting the back-biting, wrong-headed sort of criticism that often seems a mark of Christians’ online interactions. Instead, I see in Citizenship Confusion, a call to greater fidelity to love and Christian charity. Admonition and exhortation are not the same as bickering, slander, and divisiveness—and I’m glad to see Citizenship Confusion sticking to the former despite sometimes having some hard things to convey to those who might forget empathy in their zeal to promote what they feel is Right and True and Correct.

    That the zealous you’ve used to illustrate your points so often return your thoughts with words of vitriol and a lack of charity isn’t a necessary sign that you’re on the right track, but it’s definitely a sign that they might not be. I’m glad that you take the time to investigate the headlines that so many of our number pass around virally in our uncritical panics.

  • Ryan Musser

    It is precisely because your columns are both critical and compassionate, humble yet reproachful, that I love reading your column every week. I have always thought you have done a great job at balancing between the extremes of being naively supportive of the Church and pompously and unlovingly critical of her. Thank you!

  • Christina Iluzada

    Reading C.S. Lewis’s Preface to Mere Christianity the other day, I was struck by his explanation of what he planned to include and exclude from the book. He hit upon a point that is relevant, I think, to this post about the appropriate place and time for Christians to disagree with each other’s various beliefs and practices:

    “[T]he discussion of…disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.”

    Believers should absolutely rebuke, admonish, and encourage one another as well as discuss divisive doctrinal issues; however, I’m concerned when Christians are critical of each other in the public sphere, which seems to discredit Christianity (and potentially the immense charity Christians are called to display for one another) to non-Christians. I think that conversations and personal letters/emails (ideally in relationships) are the most helpful (and unity-promoting) way to admonish and rebuke each other in love.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pgepps pgepps

    Alan, as someone who was talking about “Wrong Kingdom” thinking back in our days in 413, I want to be deeply sympathetic to your column. I think all too often Americans, with or without any really Christian understanding, recruit God to the nation’s causes–and their own interpretations of them. I think that many Christian groups, including lots of evangelical communions, develop knee-jerk secular allegiances that have to be opened to question. Those challenges, though, are better developed from within those communions and by means of clearly identifying the positive teachings that bear on specific situations. Even critique is better done by choosing strong examples which showcase the flaws by contrast. This teaching office is not easily exercised through media which encourage development of “favorites” or “hit lists”–which is one reason I have largely given over blogging and discussion forums, both of which I was heavily involved with for years.

    I would encourage you to only “like” what you actually do like, and to often relate relevant positive instruction under authority in the immediate context of any criticism, as in fact you do in all of your strongest writing. And at the strongest, that is very good writing indeed. May your hands heal, your children thrive, and you and your wife be permitted to sleep normally, very soon!

    All the best,
    PGE

  • Adrienne

    Alan, as someone who has a lot of real-life interaction and friendships with non-Christians on a daily basis, I want to go on record as saying that I think Lewis’s advice is at the very least outdated – perhaps modernist in a postmodern age? – and possibly just dead wrong – or else it’s being misinterpreted; it does seem like he may be talking about fine-point doctrinal disputes, not the kind of public response to public evils that you do in your columns. Of course we should treat fellow Christians with the utmost respect out of humility and love and in following the Golden Rule, but the “circle the wagons” mentality is the absolute worst kind of repellant to even the most sincere of seekers. I have seen this happen time and time again. Saying Christians shouldn’t critique other Christians because it “looks bad” is completely backwards. Perhaps there are times when it is best to remain silent out of respect for fellow believers, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that that’s what’s best for those outside the church.

  • http://judahslion.blogspot.com/ Rick Frueh

    Good post. I would replace “criticze” with “correct”. :)

    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/2012/02/nationalism-patriotism-and-politics.html

  • http://www.thedarwinpapers.com James Foard

    In my opinion, your heading in the same direction as Ed Babinski and Dan Barker. I’ll give you about ten years (or less) and you’ll be putting up posts at and be a member of infidels.org, be in support (if your not already) of same-sex marriage, denying any literal interpretation of
    Genesis at all except as a literary device to convey a spiritual lesson, advocating a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, and going to a liberal Methodist or Episcopalian church with a lesbian pastor. I don’t know if you were brought up in the faith and were just a “cultural” Christian as a youth who had some kind of “epiphany” in your late teen years where you “saw the light” of modern liberalism, or were semi-converted as an adult but not really, but it’s hard for me to take your seriously.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Oh man James I was just thinking the same thing about you!

  • Ryan

    It’s funny because I feel like commenters who disagree with you assume you are a liberal Christian who goes to a mainline church “with a lesbian pastor.” From what I know of you, you have a fairly conservative evangelical theology and go to a PCA church (am I right?) – a denomination that is quite known for its conservative leanings and theology. You seem to be quite far from the godless liberal Christian persuasion that your critiques make you out to be.

  • Ryan

    *critics. Not “critiques”

  • http://judahslion.blogspot.com/ Rick Frueh

    Wow. It seems in some circles even a toe nail into a discussion about things like the 24 hour creation day puts you on a slippery slope which ends up having you denying the entirety of Scripture, promoting gay marriage, and seated around a druid campfire worshiping Satan! In the end, legalism is as dangerous as liberalism, and self righteousness roams freely in both.


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